Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Christmas Poem

Jonothan Rogers posted a Chesterton Christmas poem which pointed me to this one that I enjoy slightly better. 

The Wise Men
By GK Chesterton

Step softly, under snow or rain,
To find the place where men can pray;
The way is all so very plain
That we may lose the way.

Oh, we have learnt to peer and pore
On tortured puzzles from our youth,
We know all the labyrinthine lore,
We are the three wise men of yore,
And we know all things but truth.

We have gone round and round the hill
And lost the wood among the trees,
And learnt long names for every ill,
And serve the made gods, naming still
The furies the Eumenides.

The gods of violence took the veil
Of vision and philosophy,
The Serpent that brought all men bale,
He bites his own accursed tail,
And calls himself Eternity.

Go humbly ... it has hailed and snowed...
With voices low and lanterns lit;
So very simple is the road,
That we may stray from it.

The world grows terrible and white,
And blinding white the breaking day;
We walk bewildered in the light,
For something is too large for sight,
And something much too plain to say.

The Child that was ere worlds begun
(... We need but walk a little way,
We need but see a latch undone...)
The Child that played with moon and sun
Is playing with a little hay.

The house from which the heavens are fed,
The old strange house that is our own,
Where trick of words are never said,
And Mercy is as plain as bread,
And Honour is as hard as stone.

Go humbly, humble are the skies,
And low and large and fierce the Star;
So very near the Manger lies
That we may travel far.

Hark! Laughter like a lion wakes
To roar to the resounding plain.
And the whole heaven shouts and shakes,
For God Himself is born again,
And we are little children walking
Through the snow and rain.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Christmas music - humbug

I was enjoying a quick dinner with my wife at Taco Bell reflecting on having just put down a pet and the background music was bordering on making my ears bleed.  It was Christmas music.    The memorable section where the full annoyances settled in had....Joy to the World (some opera-ish lady), Frosty the Snowman, ...and some other standard which is escaping me right now (something about sleigh bells).  I felt like I was being tortured.

I'll try to maintain my focus on annoyance with Christmas music and not just style preferences.

I love Christmas...Jesus, birthday, presents, family friends.   What's not to love?
I love music; I have a sound style I prefer and love, I enjoy others from there, tolerate a pretty wide swath and there are a few extremes I just avoid. 

Somehow Christmas is moving into the "do not enjoy" column.

Right now there are 2 Christmas albums I enjoy - Behold the Lamb of God, and Christmas by Jill Phillips and Andy Gullahorn.

Behold the Lamb of God sets the mark pretty high with a story telling of mostly original songs that each one takes you a step on the Christmas story and the coming of Jesus.

Christmas is just exactly the style I like and they aren't all the same songs I've heard for 34 years.  Plus they're good songs, being a new song or a dug-out old song doesn't mean it was good.

It seems like there's a pattern within Christian music.  After 3-6 reasonably successful albums a performer must put out a Christmas album.  Generally this will have 8-10 standards and possibly 1-3 original songs. 

I like Steven Curtis Chapman and I think somewhere I own his Christmas album.  I can honestly say I have little interest in hearing him sing the standards.  I know the standards, I know he sings well with a good tone.  Yawn.

It could be that in prepping for the church Christmas Program I have heard the same album about 40x and I'm saturated.  I don't want to hear any more Christmas music.  So anything that has the feel of a song I've heard a bunch is feeling like a sliver on the back of the hand when you need 2 hands to take it out. 

Uncomfortable, pesky, and there.  An irritant you can't get rid of.

Here's the formula I have developed (and I'm working on empirically proving):

operatic/crooner + standard = uncontrolled vomiting
operatic/crooner + any song = terrible
bad sound + standard = tolerable for .04 minutes (2.4 seconds)
good sound + standard = tolerable for 4 minutes
bad sound + non-standard song(s) = tolerable for 4 songs
good sound + non-standard song(s) = tolerable for 4 hours

Basically the two I've enjoyed this season I can listen to in the background for a full day at work.  All else is falling off after 4 minutes or 4 songs depending on the radio station.

I may be alone on this and that's okay, it'll all be done in 9 more days.  I can just avoid the radio and have myself a merry little Christmas.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Empty Tool Boxes

We had an adoption training session this past weekend.  Something being "mandatory" to me usually inspires my rebellion nature.  So despite this training being mandated, I quelled my response and was looking forward to expanding my knowledge.  And it certainly did open our eyes.

Unfortunately these trainings often show the dark underbelly of the fallen world.  This was no different. 

Part of the training was an exercise with laminated cards with a behavior printed on it; and then to place the card into an age group where it might be seen.  This was eye opening because all of the behaviours were things that the agency has seen happen and wee not just random ideas.  Also shocking was that all of these behaviors can be at any age.  Many of these were things I was not ready to consider.  Some of the behaviour is out of not attachment to people/things, some were examples of testing disciplining and love limits, some were just examples of not knowing expectations or what is appropriate.

I mostly hung onto that last group of behaviors.  Mostly the kids may be missing a sense of what is appropriate.  They have been forced to grow up too soon (lost innocence) and not allowed to grow up at all (neglected).  A child can be 13 in age, 6 in development of play (never socialized) , and be 25 in responsibility (caring for siblings).

No matter why the kids are in the system they will have had at least one major attachment/bonding point that has been broken.  Child psych "attachment" is a sense of permanent or reliable safety and love.  If you don't have the tool of understanding (and expecting) proper attachment, you will struggle.  For these kids things have little value; if you had any "stuff" it may have been stolen & sold for drugs.  A child may have never had the "stuff" to begin with.  Most of these kids are just a possession and power ploy for the parents anyway.  The kids can develop a sense that all adults are friends and take on adult behaviors (language and activities).  Or a sense that they are objects (things) rather than a real person.  And then emotionally the kids don't understand a parent for security and love, it becomes tough to know you have a safe falling place.  It is a fallen world.  It is wrong  if a 4 y/o has no sense of appropriate and believes that playing with adults requires taking clothes off.  The fact that ~65% of the kids in the system have some sexual abuse is frightening. 

I think one of the major things I picked up is that adoption is starting from scratch and filling the toolbox.  Give them love that isn't conditional.  Give them respect.  Security.  Safety.  With some basic tools they can build identity.  They can construct trust and meaningful relationships.  Life, love & beauty can grow.

I came out of that training greatly feeling the paradox of life.  I don't want to bring this ugliness into my house, near my kids.  AND I can't ignore the ugliness of the fallen world, I can't just leave kids sitting in there.   While ugly and scary, it was also convicting that you gotta do something.

Monday, November 29, 2010

On influential people

"Distribute the dignified people and the capable people and the highly businesslike people among all the situations which their ambition or their innate corruption may demand, but keep close to your heart, keep deep in you inner councils the absurd people; let the clever people pretend to advise you, but let the fools alone influence you; let the laughable people whose faults you see and understand be the only people who are really inside your life, who really come near you or accompany you on your lonely march towards the last impossibility." - Introduction to 'David Copperfield' G.K. Chesterton

I read this and it causes me to that's a long sentence.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Adoption is battling hopeless causes

"Youth is pre-eminently the period in which a man can be lyric, fanatical, poetic; but youth is the period in which a man can be hopeless.  The end of every episode is the end of the world.  But the power of hoping through everything, the knowledge that the soul survives its adventures, that great inspiration come to the middle-aged.  God has kept that good wine until now."  - 'Charles Dickens' -Chesterton

"In the struggle for existence, it is only on those who hang on for ten minutes after all is hopeless, that hope begins to dawn." GK Chesterton

Kids are hopeless.  They have no perspective of their lives existing beyond the current crisis.  They lack the view of their soul being tried, broken, and coming out stronger on the other side.  This is why the world ends when they get the blue plate instead of the green for dinner.  Whether in the "wrong chair", stuck eating terrible food, going to bed early, losing video games, getting a bad grade, a bad comment, bullied, broken up with.  The world is on the verge of ending, until it doesn't.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Almost world famous - Phredd

Yesterday was a very busy day for my family.  One of those that at the end you relax and wonder how all of that was squeezed into one day.  I'll even pass on commenting on a terrible Steelers game and my hatred for the N.E. Patriots.

In some of my very formative years (13-18) I was part of a volunteer crew that setup Christian concerts that rolled through Lancaster.  I'm guessing in that six year range it was close to 100 shows.  Get there, unload the truck, setup the stage, watch the show (or play security), strike the stage and load it all up.  Rinse, lather, repeat in 3 weeks.  The mastermind, organizer and major driver (he'll deny all of these) was Fred.

Fred is now doing kids' shows and it was a great pleasure to have my church host a show yesterday.  Fred helped with the Sunday morning service that included an incredibly touching song (He Will Listen to You):

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Kingdom belongs to such as these [pffftshhhwew]

My 5 y/o after bedtime prayers gave me quite a chuckle.
C: no one knows how old God is.

me: that is true, He has just always been there.
C: and no one knows what he looks like.
me: true.
C: I know what he looks like.
me: how do you know what God looks like.
C: I saw a picture of him in the Bible.  God has white hair, Jesus has brown hair.  God has a white beard and Jesus has a brown beard.  And God has [pffftshhhwew]* robes.

I was very impressed by the description of God's robes as [pffftshhhwew].   I can't think of any better words.

pffftshhhwew- adj - /pffftshhhwew/ (similar to the sound of a wet whoopee cushion stepped on and leaking out of two or more openings.
Origin: ancient kid word from various regions and cultures.
1) flowing glory that is beyond words. 
2) pretty cool and big.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Librivox rox

Today I finished "A Tale of Two Cities" by Charles Dickens.  I thought about writing a quick review & then thought why not cover all that librivox has given to me thus far.  I have a long list so I will try to limit the reviews to one line.  In looking over my list two things jump out to me:
A) I'm a nerd.
B) I'm a GK Chesterton nerd.
Neither of these are new or shocking to me. 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Kids are tough

Kids are tough.  True 'dat.

I had a discussion last night with another father about newborns and the whole pregnancy/birth process.  Like we did anything other than stand there with our hands in our pockets thru the whole thing.  But there is in the US a tendency to handle newborns with such soft gloves.  Very tender and gentle.  Other countries are much more cavalier to pass the babies around to other children in the family.  6&8 year olds being the caretaker and watching over newborns while mom tends to the rest of life.  A large part of that divide must be our reduced need to immediately start back tending to life (few US mom's are out tending crops lest they have sufficient food after the harvest).  Another factor is we forget - kids are tough.  I'm embarrassed by the accidents that have happened in our family (drops, couch rolls, stepped on, sat on, etc).  Everyone is doing fine despite our clumsiness. Thank God, kids are tough.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

It's that time of year again.

I sometimes dread this time of year.  The opinion polls, the constant checking of the state of the world, the uncertainty of the future, and the feeling that this is truly the most important event of the year; if not the most significant of the past 10 years.  Pressure of making the exact right choice or paying the consequences for years to come.

It is my wife's birthday.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Timing is Everything

It is currently said that hope goes with youth and lends to youth its wings of a butterfly; but I fancy that hope is the last gift given to man, and the only gift not given to youth.  Youth is pre-eminently the period in which a man can be lyric, fanatical, poetic; but youth is the period in which a man can be hopeless.  The end of every episode is the end of the world.  But the power of hoping through everything, the knowledge that the soul survives its adventures, that great inspiration comes to the middle-aged.  God has kept that good wine until now.  GK Chesterton in 'Charles Dickens'

In my daily GKC quote calendar this one came up, and this quote stirred my mind.  Mostly the line regarding keeping the good wine until now.  It gave me a new understanding of the original event.  There is much to be said for getting through the experiences thinking there is nothing on the other side (hopeless) and you come through stronger and with hope for future experiences.  But back to the line - "...kept that good wine until now."

Jesus at the wedding in Cana (John 2) turns water into wine.  He directs servants to fill jars with water and he directs them to take some to the master of ceremonies who says - "Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now."

This has always been one of those Bible things that puzzled me.  It was never crystal clear to me why this was his first miracle and then Jesus' comment to Mary "why involve me?  My time has not yet come."  Always rather fuzzy to me.

Well reading more into the MC - "you have saved the best till now."  The jars that were filled were used for cleansing ceremonies and washing before eating.  Up until then all the cleaning was external, now the cleansing was going inside;  instead of just washing hands Jesus makes you able to drink the clean wine.

Thinking of Jesus' life as the entry of the good wine.  I'm sure there are much deeper implications, but that just got me to chuckle at a "well, duh" moment.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Science & Philosophy

In these days we are accused of attacking science because we want it to be scientific.  Surely there is not any undue disrespect to our doctor in saying that he is our doctor, not our priest or our wife or ourself.  It is not the business of the doctor to say that we must go to a watering-place; it is his affair to say that certain results of health will follow if we do go to a watering-place.  After that, obviously, it is for us to judge.  Physical science is like simple addition; it is either infallible or it is false.  To mix science up with philosophy is only to produce a philosophy that has lost all its ideal value and a science that has lost all its practical value.  I want my private physician to tell me whether this or that food will kill me.  It is for my private philosopher to tell me whether I ought to be killed.
GK Chesterton - All Things Considered

I think the general disbelief and subsequent apathy about any scientific hub-bub is due to this affect.  "Wolf!" has been cried so much it is hard to believe any scientist.  The mingling of philosophy (and further politics) with science reports has tainted both.

"When my wife & I play cards; I come in second, she comes in next to last." -Jim Tremblay
Figures don't lie, but liars can figure.

Either side of any argument can produce some expert and some study to show the rate of increase/decrease of a data point with limited connection indicates we are at a point of acting now or facing immediate peril.  How perilous is the peril?  Very.

Monty Python and The Holy Grail
Lancelot: We were in the nick of time. You were in great peril.

Galahad: I don't think I was.
Lancelot: Yes, you were. You were in terrible peril.
Galahad: Look, let me go back in there and face the peril.
Lancelot: No, it's far too perilous.
Galahad: Look, it's my duty as a knight to sample as much peril as I can.
Lancelot: No, we've got to find the Holy Grail. Come on.
Galahad: Oh, let me have just a little bit of peril?
Lancelot: No. It's unhealthy.

Sorry, I just wanted a quick rant as this is the season of polls and opinion meters.  They keep asking questions nobody cares about (Red or Blue) in an attempt to justify themselves when we may all likely want Orange.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Why we are not adopting

This is a strange title - especially considering yesterday was "Why we are adopting".  Well it's a hook to make you want to read it.  And clearly it worked because here you are & now you are compelled.  And you aren't reading merely because you are bored or are delaying doing the dishes, writing a report or tending a diaper.  Nope surely it was the hook.

This post is more to clarify that some may say they want to adopt because of  "blah blah blah".  This is not to talk down to some of these causes (although I might do that) or that the causes are bad (some misguided, some okay).  Just that they are not driving causes for why we are adopting.

We are not adopting to:

Monday, October 18, 2010

Why we are adopting?

So we have started the process to adopt a child which brings about the question - why adopt?  This is not an easy question to answer.  But I think if you are considering adoption, you need to know your answer(s).  In no particular order here are a few reasons:

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Everybody's a "--------" (<-- well meaning idiot).

Frequently at work we (engineers) get our perfect little design process upset.  A well meaning idiot (sales) will come in & tell us how to better a design.  Today that took the form of being told that a pivot shaft shouldn't move;  it has to - or the mechanism doesn't pivot.  Our salesman was stuck in truly misguided concern.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Sunshine Makers

"...keep cheerful as well as busy, for you are the sunshine-maker of the family, and if you get dismal there is no fair weather." Little Women

I've been listening to Little Women on my morning drive ( still rocks).  I heard this line this morning & it really hit home.  It's from Ch.38 meaning I have about 7 chapters left. 

Little Women is one of Becky's favorite books.  I had been overdue on reading it for about 2 months, 12 years or 22 years depending on your outlook.  I'll take the average - 17 years, 1 month.  No matter what math used or not used, I'm glad to be getting into the book.

It is a great book.  It is not about shrunken people, gigantic aliens or battles between people of different physical sizes - and I still like it.  It is a story about a family that stays simple.  The simple morals and joys jump out to me the most.  None of the family characters have deep ulterior motives or plans to manipulate people.  They face the world with straight forward truth and love.  Honest with each other through all situations, and in all situations seeking to do what is right.

The line really hit home with me because for about 2 months this has been evident in our home.  The line is lifted from a speech where Mrs. March is helping Meg understand about outlook and remembering the whole house and family, not just being a slave to the kids.  We've been regularly doing a devotional that has kept us talking about everything.  Just starting each morning together with prayer & conversation has been great.  Some mornings are easier than others, but we are there each morning.

I think it really has sunk in recently for both of us how the basic outlook affects the whole house.  I know somedays it is easier to be the sunshine-maker than other days.  But there is certainly a difference when sunshine is made rather than focusing on clouds and expecting sunny weather.  It results in a sunnier house.

Monday, October 4, 2010

A concerted effort.

Our household lives pretty frugally.  Some may call it cheap.  Some may still say we're high on the hog.
I think we're pretty good at being simple.
I like my beer from a can.  We cut the cable (but still have remnant, sshh; but no DVR).  We usually eat dinner around the table. We don't any I-berry type of devices.  The wii is our primary game system and the kids can only play on the weekend.  Our outstanding debt is low, if we can't buy it; we don't.

While we generally don't go extravagant with stuff - we do have a rich schedule.

I get pulled into this trap of thinking once event XXX passes, things will go back to "normal".  I'm pretty sure my basic definition of a "normal day" or "normal week" is flawed.  They are rarely similar enough to call them normal.  It's more that we move from project to project (house), event to event (kids, us).

One of my latest undertakings is bringing music to Grove City.  Phredd is coming to play at our church on Nov 14th @ 2:00pm.  (you should come, no seriously.  plan on being there).  Phredd puts on a fun show for kids of all ages with silly songs, dancing & worship.

While in high school I was fortunate to get involved as volunteer staff to setup Christian concerts that rolled thru Lancaster.  Many shows rolled through there due to the work of Fred McNaughton and WJTL/Creation Concerts.  Generally unload the truck; setup the stage; be on hand as merchandise help, ticket help or security; tear-down & go home.  A great way to see some great shows.

The short list:
Sardonyx, Newsboys, DC Talk, Michael W. Smith, Twila Paris, Phil Keaggy, Michael Card, Phil & John, One Bad Pig, Steven Curtis Chapman, The Choir, Acapella, 4-Hymn, Glad, Geoff Moore & the Distance, Pray for Rain, Petra, Whiteheart, Myron Lefevre, Jonny Lang, Audio Adrenaline, Degarmo & Key, Bryan Duncan, Carman, Rez Band, Sixpence None the Richer, Whitecross, Barren Cross.  That's all I can think of without getting into the Creation festival list. 

Sometimes you got a t-shirt or some music from the artists for help.  That was the coolest thing when it occurred.  I still have a few of their tapes.  I remember giving away many CD's because "I won't get a CD player".  I'm sure there are more but they tended to rise & fall frequently.  There's a whole other blog about the music industry & marketing.

I also remember getting a ride home one time with Fred because he lived in my town.  Trying to impress him, and with my wonderful middle school wisdom I told him a very lewd joke.  (Curse you brain for still remembering that joke & not remembering family birthdays).  Fred handled it with grace & said "I don't think I get it, I don't want to."  I caught on and the conversation went elsewhere.  I have since admired him for the grace & love shown in that immediate moment.  Fred is a good man.

Well now Fred has thru God's providence moved into taking the stage as a performer and I'm anxious for the show.  He's also shown grace in helping figure out what I'm doing promoting a concert.  Again, Fred is a good man.

Part of me hopes this blossoms successfully and I can get more music out the Grove City way.  Part of me wants to get it done & catch my breath, because it's a lot of work.  Don't let me lead you astray, I'm doing a tiny sliver & Becky is my superb sounding board, poster creator, artistic editor and doing much legwork. 

But I'm sure once this show is done things will get back to normal.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Make Believe

I have to admit - my kids scare me.  I get very excited & think (like most parents I'm sure)  "my kids are brilliant."  B-roo doing sudoku's at 6.  Cabu at 4 trying to use a fishing pole to get toys that are stuck behind the toybox.  Ninjally starting to spout out phrases rather than a word here or there; an intepreter may still be needed but they're happening.  My kids are brilliant, and they scare me.

Probably the one who scares me the most is Cabu.
Last night driving home from soccer practice there was a lengthy explanation needed because I told a story.  I frequently tell random stories to my kids of Joey McGurk getting into oddball situations.  Cabu wanted to be put ontop of the van so he could see a bug.  (He's been placed up there periodically before, sshhh.)  I said "no not this time.  once when I was growing up Joey McGurk was up there and his shirt got stuck & he had to ride home on the roof."  (this is a typical Joey McGurk 2 sentence story).

Upon being quized if that was real, I had to confess - "No, I'm just telling a silly story.  Playing pretend."

B-roo had to chime in with - "make believe."

Cabu then dissected what it means to "make believe" and that is not really the same as "play pretend."  This is where I get scared.  That's deep.  Way deep. 
Okay taking "pretend" as the name of a game, (playing soccer) playing pretend simply means to take part in a game of imagination encounters - more or less.  Using sticks as guns is a form of playing "pretend".

He said about believing in God and how to make believe - he's not pretending.  There is a sense that if it's made it isn't belief, it is knowing;  if I know it's pretend - I'm not really going to believe it.  I was able to somewhat settle him with it being a silly story and God is real.  Belief is too serious, it is not made.

Knowing I was outmatched in this battle of wits I changed the subject.  Since his wits and his attention span are sharped than mine, the ploy worked.

Faith like a child.

"The two facts which attract almost every normal person to chidren are, first, that they are very serious, and, secondly, that they are in consequence very happy.  They are jolly with the completeness which is possible only in the absence of humour.  The most unfathomable schools and sages have never attained to the gravity which dwells in the eyes of a baby of three months old.
It is the gravity of astonishment at the universe, and astonishment at the universe is not mysticism, but a transcendent common-sense." - GK Chesterton

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Gospel Paradox - Sermon

This is my sermon (minus inflections and a few more jokes). probably long but it made for a quick blog post.

Sermon on the mount (Matt: 5-7, Luke 6):
Matthew 6:
22"The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. 23But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
24"No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

Anytime there has been an opening to preach I ask myself: “self, is there a burning message (a burden) on my heart that God wants me to share”. I’ve preached a few times at our last church and my time finally came up to preach here. This is probably the most written out I’ve been for any sermon. Not because I need the notes, I love winging it and am not a natural organizer; but because it is such a burning heart message for me I don’t want to mess up the delivery any more than I will by nature..

Monday, September 20, 2010

Sabbatical for the Sabbath

My blogging regularity has been on decline for the past 2 wks. I'm filling in for our pastor on Sunday. I've been busy working on a sermon.

I've preached before; I think I was an adequate mouthpiece. This time seems different though. It's probably the most I've prepared my sermonading. By that I mean the most written out. Mostly I want to preach the current heart burden I have. Gospel Paradox - specifically being a justified sinner. Getting this view at the base identity; beyond identity the definition of who you are

So given a topic I could rant for 1hr about if I get going, I need to keep it to 20 minutes to explain it and why it matters. That's why I'm writing it out. Something odd & true about putting in so much time to keep something short.

So to all 6 of my faithful, loyal readers I will be back upto speed soon with the fine nuances if paradox, family, frisbee and life in general.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Notes from HM-MMX

A friend asked me to pass along my notes from Hutchmoot. So here they are. Not a real post; just some notes (and very scattered & random too). A while back I said I was done with HM specific posts. Well, I was wrong.

Perfected in Weakness - Sam (SD) Smith, Travis Prinzi, Pete (Arthur Sherman) Peterson
Better to have little faith in a big God, than big faith in a little one.

John Ruskin - (author to be looked up)

Weakness defines our struggle & not our person.

The Immersed Imagination - Andrew Peterson, Ron Block
Mark Helprin - The Winter's Tale
Madelyn L'engle - Walking on Water

Walt Wangerin Jr.
compose experience:
-(a creator's task) put things in order & experienced
-Art seeks the reader (received as experience)
-Artists are shapers

5 Covenants (of a shaper):
1. Percieved reality - found in life, makes it believable
2. craft & compatriots - we stand on the shoulders of giants (the ppl & their works)
3. Relationships - community - use, not misuse
4. Must not lie - fiction is true, lies are false
5. Assumed truths - Axioms - Christ - some truths pour through the work without being mentioned.

Comment time (so much for just notes & not being a post, I was wrong again):
Walt made a point of being a writer who is a Christian, not a Christian who is a writer. This hung in my ears for a little bit and caused me much pondering.

I think his primary point is that if you see Jesus in everyone, and in every story; it will pour out from your creative work. "The Book of the Dun Cow" never mentions "God" or "Jesus", and still is a story of good vs. evil and providence. Your work will automatically reflect your worldview (like it or not).

I think my initial hang-up was from forcing a sense of priority determining into it. Too much drumming of "Jesus needs to be your top priority". In reality, when Jesus becomes heart knowledge it is bigger than top priority, it colours all priorities. It's the paper you write your priorities on (something like that).

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Defeat of Strength

"The Cross cannot be defeated for it is defeat." - GKC 'The Ball and the Cross'

I used to despise the song lyric "little ones to him belong, they are weak but he is strong" from Jesus Loves Me.
Why can't God use me when I'm strong? Or when I'm no longer a little one and get bigger & stronger he can't use me? I want to both be strong & be used by God. It wasn't that I was worried about not being used, I don't want to be weak. Vulnerability - get outta here; I want to open a can of whoop ass for Jesus.

The Christian church is unique in that it's built on weakness. The cross is a symbol of being defeated. Jesus was abandoned on the cross. The apostles were average joes not spiritual supermen. It was more a collection keystone cops than the Justice League.

Then it is fully a doctrinal point that the church is built upon fallen people who are full of mistakes. "Not a museum of saints, but a hospital for sinners." I heard that this week and it made sense and made me smile.

Since giving up on my strength identity (and perpetually giving it up as it sneaks back) that lyric doesn't bother me at all. If it succeeds despite my weakness it proves all the more that God is doing the work.

When Christ at a symbolic moment was establishing His great society, He chose for its cornerstone neither the brilliant Paul nor the mystic John, bur a shuffler, a snob, a coward - in a word, a man. And upon this rock He has built His Church, and the gates of Hell have not prevailed against it. All the empires and the kingdoms have failed because of this inherent and continual weakness, that they were founded by strong men and upon strong men. But this one thing - the historic Christian Church - was founded upon a weak man, and for this reason it is indestructible. For no chain is stronger than its weakest link. - GKC 'Heretics'

Friday, September 3, 2010

Courage of Christ

I wrapped up listening to Orthodoxy (again) yesterday. Definitely my favorite book.

"This truth is yet again true in the case of the common modern attempts to diminish or to explain away the divinity of Christ. The thing may be true or not; that I shall deal with before I end. But if the divinity is true it is certainly terribly revolutionary. That a good man may have his back to the wall is no more than we knew already; but that God could have His back to the wall is a boast for all insurgents for ever. Christianity is the only religion on earth that has felt that omnipotence made God incomplete. Christianity alone has felt that God, to be wholly God, must have been a rebel as well as a king. Alone of all creeds, Christianity has added courage to the virtues of the Creator. For the only courage worth calling courage must necessarily mean that the soul passes a breaking point--and does not break." GK Chesterton -'Orthodoxy'

Monday, August 30, 2010

War - what is it good for.

A short thought-gem before a road trip today:
War is a dreadful thing; but it does prove two points sharply and
unanswerably -- numbers and an unnatural valour. One does discover the two
urgent matters; how many rebels there are alive, and how many are ready to be
-GK Chesterton 'What's Wrong with the World'

Time magazine once asked prominent authors, and thinkers the question "What's wrong with the world?" To which GKC replied:

Dear Sirs,
I am.

Sincerely, -GK Chesterton

He then proceeded to write a book with things wrong with the world, but I feel his first answer is best. Humanity is wrong. Me. We are all fallen. A fallen world means that "any man can fall, miserably, at any moment at any situation. Including this man, from this time, at this place." Plus the wit and brevity of GKC pours through.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


My little girl turns 2 today. Happy B-day!

She's a special, magical child. She can charm you with smallest smile, head tilt or cutest little sound that is slightly past gibberish on its way to a real word. She transform into the most capable little person able to sit and eat and drink from big cup without spilling a drop. She casts a spell and leaves you mesmerized at this person flying through the room to scold the dog (or feed it). Your magically drawn into picking her up and hugging her. I do it without thinking, I'm under her spell.

She's also a ninja to a level past the teaching of her older siblings. My eldest (girl) had some ability to sneak around doing things but generally didn't try too much. If she was in her room doing un-approved crafting (scissors, etc) she'd often have completed a few pictures and one is for you; and it manages to melt your heart. My boy is an exceptional climber bordering on being a spider monkey. (Probably too good because he's fearless about it - at 2 he chipped a tooth jumping off of a bunk bed.) Arms grab & hold in ways not normal for a 5 y/o.

Side story of proof:
Last night there was a legitimate extensive wrestling match over a new toy dino. Allie had the new toy in the house and was going to bed in 20 minutes. Cabu was unhappy with his toy in the possession of someone else despite him watching Jackie Chan (Spy Next Door - not so good) and not playing. He took the toy. We said to give it back for a little bit and were met with firm defiance. The Jackie Chan battle scenes started as fun to get it and became real. He was switching hands, grabbing, kicking, and deflecting me like the clumsy giant I was. This quickly turned into a hard fought battle that I could not lose. And I did not - but I'm "ascared" for the future battles. So back to ninj-allie.

Allie has learned from and surpassed her teachers. She will sneakily be on chairs & tables playing with off-limit toys or pouring salt on the table to draw pictures and lick up. She had quickly learned how to dive off the couch arms onto the couch. If she's out of sight she's probably using her ninja skills. I'm thinking she daily protects our house from the evils of yard gnomes, other toddler ninjas, and neighborhood cats.

A number of times I've been struck speechless by my kids. Probably a muting spell or something. But I'm speechless staring at my kids in awe and fear at the same time. I see the things being done, thought about, said and tried. These kids are incredible. Who am I that this intelligent, wonderful creature is in my care? That all of that innocence and potential in the future should be under my clumsy hands to form? My wife and I are the primary people for molding these miracles into miracle makers? These kids are incredible.

How long until they realize we're making this up as we go and they form a coup and overthrow us. They'll be kind & keep us around just so we can drive them places. But y'know that will only last until they are about 12 & can reach the pedals on their own. Then we'll be locked in the attic, but we'll be together so that's okay. Plus I hid some crayons and a coloring book up there so we don't get bored.

So for today I will enjoy my spellcasting toddler ninja's birthday. There's only a few more of them I will be able to enjoy freely; soon the gifts will turn to tributes. The cake will be a food offering to our rulers. But that's okay too; because I think she will still protect us from yard gnomes, and ninja-ing is hard work and you need some good food to keep going.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

-On the Eve of the Vote

"Women have been set free to be Bucchantes. They have been set tree to be virgin martyrs; they have been set free to be witches. Do not ask them now to sink so low as the higher culture." -All Things Considered

"When society is in rather a futile fuss about the subjection of women, will no one say how much every man owes to the tyranny and privilege of women, to the fact that they alone rule education until education becomes futile? For a boy is only sent to be taught at school when it is too late to teach him anything. The real thing has been done already, and thank God it is nearly always done by women. Every man is womanized, merely by being born. They talk of the masculine woman; but every man is a feminized man. And if ever man walk to Westminster to protest against this female privilege, I shall not join their procession."

I've been listening to GK Chesterton stuff for about 2 years. While he is often quotable for snippets or some great and wise word play he is tremendously sound in building upto it. That is one of the most striking things about his work. The quick quotes are capstones upon a well built wall. Rationale defined and assembled brick by brick, and tough to tear down.

After a getting through a few works with "huh, I never thought of that" or "that's a neat point" one concept caught my interest, he was generally opposed to the suffrage movement. He did not like the women's vote or much of the movement.
"Women shouldn't vote."

This seemed a VERY antiquated view. It's hard to believe anybody ever thought like that. Nobody thinks like that anymore.

I find Chesterton to actually be a liberal thinker bounded by the confines of logic and a general following of common sense. I at first tried to solve the maze of how he got to this without seeing the twisted path he took to such an odd conclusion. Odd by todays standards. He was many things but a good critic is one, if he didn't like an idea or culture; there was a reason. It was not from a disregard of women that he opposed the movement.

Chesterton starts by breaking down the role of the vote. Voting is to put a voice to the mob.
Mobs are generally 20 people deciding the guilty person needs punishment. Mobs are beneath women, and so is voting. It wasn't that women were incapable of pulling a lever or filling out a form. Or that that were not smart enough to make a good choice. He'd argue they'd make a better choice. But women hold such an esteemed role and position in society it should not be sullied with voting. Mobs are dirty work, voting is dirty work.

Not that women couldn't think or talk as political leaders either. Women in politics were putting themselves in the only stance where men were not afraid of them; a fighting stance.

Chesterton held women as a beautiful creation of the creator that was worthy of a high seat. Of a throne in society.

"To be Queen Elizabeth within a definite area - deciding sales, banquets, labours, and holidays; to be Whiteley within a certain area - providing toys, boots, sheets, cakes, and books; to be Aristotle with a certain area - teaching morals, manners, theology, and hygiene: I can understand how this might exhaust the mind, but I cannot imagine how it could narrow it." -What's Wrong with the World

It wasn't a matter of making women beneath men, it was a matter of still holding them above men.

Yup. Nobody thinks like that anymore.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Note to self: write notes

On my wall here at work sits a lovely little note my 6 y/o wrote to me:

Our church hands out children's bulletins with little word games, mazes, coloring, or differential equations for the really big kid who is bored. I received this note following a puzzle where all the words were separated by the letter "k". I was assisting Beth on figuring this out and she was sure the word was "a bout" not "about". I had to assist my son to the bathroom and came back to the pew and was handed this note by a cute girl with brows knit in frustration at me. Explaining that it would be "akbout" only produced more brow knitting. This happened about 2 months ago and is still funny today.

Yesterday, we had another episode of father-daughter frustration. The morning started well but turned suddenly upon some life important matter for a 6 y/o of who got to brush their teeth first, or the color of the sky, or who gets which seat in the car. Whatever it was the frustration and attitude was firing on all cylinders. I wish this was unusual for Sunday mornings, but it isn't. There's almost always some member of the squad who is mad that the van has 4 wheels instead of 6. Sometimes me because having 6 wheels would make for a serious swag-wagon. But, that's how I roll.

The 6 y/o's attitude wasn't fixed with the car ride to church. As church started I was getting grunts & growls instead of actual word responses to questions. Some kid's bulletins were being worked on when I was handed this note:

In case you can't decipher - I am not gonna talk to you for a year. To Dad, From Beth.
This vow of silence lasted about 2 minutes, and then there was a much happier child sitting beside me.
When we got home and after the allotted time out for earlier misbehavior I had a nice chat with my daughter.

You were mad and frustrated and grumpy this morning. And you need a good way to let those feelings out. You know hitting would only hurt your hand, hurt someone else or get you in trouble, or both. In church you wrote a note. Did you feel better after writing a note?
Well anytime you're mad, or angry, or happy also. You can write a note. You can write a note for any feeling you want and give it to mom & dad. We will gladly read your notes. We will not be angry, you will not get in trouble as long as it is not about killing people.
I think I'll read some Psalms tonight.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Teachable Moments

Last night before bedtime I was approached by my son, Cabu. With energy he asked. "Are we going to the museum tomorrow?"

My kids have a steel trap memory for fun things that are in the future. If you say something "might happen sometime soon" (which is a very reasonable non-committal brush off from a parent), you'll be reminded of such event certainly happening from sun up to sun down. You will be pestered with the "when", "is it time yet" and "how soon" until your will breaks upon the rocks of the kids dreams.

My response "Not soon. We aren't. Why are you asking?"

I was sure that at this point neither of us slipped with an offer of the museum in the future. Becky & I are getting very good at not discussing anything fun in front of the kids. Beyond fun, we won't discuss anything that might cause an exciting thought until we are certain it will happen (a movie tonight); then we get to leverage it as a possibility and build the anticipation so that they think the simplest things (watching "Wipeout") are events worthy of keeping a clean room for a week.

Cabu's very astute response, "I want to show them my collection of feathers and teeth so they can see that they are from dinosaurs, and keep them in the museum."

Somehow our house has become a storage house of collectibles. Not for the parents stuff. Oh-no. The kids have various stuffed animals, oddball toys, stickers and each has a box of small stuff. Not just general stuff but special stuff. Odd rocks, feathers, strings, etc. Each item is of immense value; it just hasn't been discovered or understood yet. Cabu has some "dino" feathers and a rock or two that he thinks are dinosaur teeth. While I love the ambition, I'm sure the odd shaped nugget from the driveway is just a broken rock and not related to a t-rex in any way.

Knowing how fragile situation this is, I picked up Cabu & set him on my lap. I needed someway to diffuse this. We aren't running all this down to any museum. I don't want to squash his energy, but we need someway to stop the chatter about going to the museum. Not just delay but something to let him know the museum isn't going to look at your feathers & teeth.

"Cabu, have you ever lost something you thought you really needed. Like, you lose your favorite car somewhere. And play time just isn't as fun without the red car to lead the others. So you look, and look, and look. Eventually you find what you have been looking for stuck behind the dresser. And you push and pull and try hard so that nothing stops you from getting that car. You fight to get it and once you have it you won't lose it again."

"Well this feather here looks pretty important. It looks like a flight feather that leads all the other feathers. And for a feather this large it must have been a large dinosaur. Huge."

"These teeth are probably the small grinder teeth in back but the dinosaur has fangs. Pointy fangs the size of your arm. While I'm sure a museum would like to have them; it'd be dangerous to take them outside where a dinosaur flying high above would see them and swoop down and take them. 'Cause you know that dinosaur is looking. Looking for his teeth and feathers and I don't think he'll stop. So keep these in your room, and have a good night. Sleep tight my boy."

Cabu cried. He cried a bunch actually; and didn't seem to want to go to bed after that. He seemed upset about not going to the museum, but I can't be sure. I think he learned a lot from this lesson though.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Grandmaster G-Mac - Write back atcha

This is my review of George MacDonald's "A Letter to American Boys" written in 1878.

I've tried a few times to prod some folks into a discussion of George MacDonald's "A Letter to American Boys". I haven't run across anyone who has read the letter yet. G-Mac is a master story teller and wrote MANY stories so it's no surprise. He also wrote in the late 1800's and a small snippet isn't as likely to survive as his other tales. He was especially skilled in the fairy tale and fantasy genre. I do have to toss in that I was especially moved by Ranald Bannerman's Boyhood although it was fiction not fantasy. "Letter.." is fairly short and includes a parable pushing it into more of the fantasy genre. Parables are great word riddles for illustrating a point. It's easy to cheat and read the answer on the parables of Jesus before truly wondering about the meaning; probably too easy. No such luck with G-Mac. My wife may soon call me out on this by providing insight of her own. So here's my thoughts before they get shaped by the views of others. Of course there may be some interpretation that screams of being true and I may have missed it. I'd be happy to read it. That's the point of discussion.

WARNING: my review is full of spoilers - you've had you're whole life to read it (assuming you're less than 132 years old). So read it now before scrolling too far (6-ish pages or 15 minutes).

Letter to American Boys - text

Or the audio: (about 1/2 down the list)
Letter to American Boys - audio

Here's my interpretation(s).
Wizard - saves the boy and cares for him for a brief time
Prisoner - character in the boy's dream. imprisoned by his own built chains

The boy is America. Young in age relative to every other character. America is a relatively young country. It's a letter to American boys and the boy is the primary character. No big leap here.

The Wizard is a God or guiding character. I don't think it is any specific country. He's described as being able to impart dreams and visions to people who would listen. Probably more of a trait: freedom, bigger though; a divine freedom.

The tricky part of the letter is that the boy has a dream and now as the reader you're interpreting a dream within a parable. Or is the dream the entire point of the parable?

Mom = England
The ending with the child rebellious to his mother & then reconciliation could point to this view. The boy visits with freedom for a while and then returns home. The weather is stormy and he becomes rebellious towards the mother - "I only want to be left alone". The boy is in misery and the mother returns after she is visited from the wizard. He cleans his room, they reconcile and move forward - "we will go out together." The storm has passed, it is sunny and pleasant. This seems rational with Mother England and the relationship that did develop after the revolution.

What then of the prisoner? It may be a vision of example of oppression or corruption. A prisoner of freedom, he forged his own chains and put them on himself. In being free he can also make poor choices and limit himself. The chains slowly come off as he cleans the area around him and resists being a jailer of smaller animals although in prison himself. A nation shackled with corruption (dirt) and oppression (spider). Set free as it cleans and respects life (bird).

Prisoner = England
Mother = freedom, or lady liberty-ish
The boy in a short time away from home gets a vision of a recognizable person stuck in a self made prison. The prisoner is crying out for it's mother, but the only remaining caretaker is the wizard.
This would serve more as an example parable. The boy should be careful not to lose its relationship with mother (freedom). Learn from the mistakes of the prisoner. Also learn from the success of the prisoner.

I can convince myself of either interpretation - kind of like forcing a checkerboard to be red on black OR black on red (a Chesterton analogy). Whatever the interpretation (and I hope some folks have other ideas) there are excellent pictures painted. MacDonald shows through as a true story teller and weaver of tales.

He also knows how to close a letter:
The Father of all the boys on earth and in heaven be with the boys of America!
and when they grow up, may they and the men of England understand, and love, and help each other! Amen!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Hutchmoot in the 2nd chair

Saturday of HM-MX was many things. It's hard to find the right words to describe it. I started with awesome. Nice, but not quite the right word. I then moved to providential. Upon further thinking that is more fitting for the entire weekend and not just Saturday. I've since settled on transformational. This is all of Saturday, not just Hutchmoot.

Saturday had the option for two of three discussion sessions. I settled into "Perfected in Weakness" and "The Immersed Imagination". "Perfected" had some thinkers, lovers and writers of stories layout the power of a story with the anti-hero. Much of the discussion was about the "common guy" and the flawed characters in the story.
I doubt the speakers realized it, but there was a passing comment (paraphrased):
Once the character is established it has to remain true to itself or the story doesn't hold. In life people tend to avoid conflict, but life is scary. Conflict happens and can be good.

My gut stirred, it might have been indigestion but it ended up something more.

The next session was "Immersed Imagination". This focused more on the works of CS Lewis & George MacDonald who went far with creative stories. I think I've settled on analogy of painting by number; definitions make the lines, but stories give the color. These two authors were masters at telling the Truth with story. And telling the Story with truth. So my pickup line from this (again paraphrased & mentally processed):
The Jesus in the story is transformational. A story can move you from A to B, but to be transformational, it takes the incarnation of Christ. Him entering into you and changing you.

Yup, not indigestion.

Without getting into nitty-gritty details, I was not living this way at my core. I had a narrow range of how much conflict I would allow and beyond that I would emotionally shut down to limit the damage. Whether the damage was simply to my pride, my emotions or my image; I shut down. I squirmed out of big conflicts. This is not a good way to live. It's especially tough on a marriage. The person I should be the most open with was the one I was limiting the most. In shutting down to avoid the bad I also shut down the other end. There was no joy (and growth) from resolved conflict.

After getting to my room at my gracious hosts' home there was about a 2hr phone conversation to layout how screwed up I've been by trying to avoid conflict; & I was done lying to myself and people around me. Small white lies but they build strong walls. I will only relate how screwed up I've been. Transformation for me, Becky, and our marriage. Not just moving from A to B, but changing from old to new.

What that looks like? I don't know, but I like it so far, and like figuring it out.

Becky & I have had more and deeper conversations in the subsequent week than in the previous 15+ years of marriage and dating. The world seems sunnier but really it's just truer to its natural colors.

The word "providential" keeps coming to my mind to describe the entire weekend. There were MANY mis-steps and truth nuggets that wove together to take each of us to an entirely new place. And some blessings overflowed into other lives too.

mmm...Providence. I'm still chewing on the meat and staying full.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Raising the Bar

I recently was explaining my job as a mechanical engineer. MechE is pretty general so I was focusing on the details of the core strength of my company - bar turners.

Red-hot steel bars come out of the furnace and get squeezed through rolling round dies or get hammered by a forge as the bar is rotated. This works for a general usable shape but the bar is ugly; a rough shape with scale and lumps and is grey or black.

I design & build machines that spin a cutterhead with tools. The bar is held tight and shoved through the spinning cutterhead to become a round, precise and well finished barstock for use in shafts, hydraulic cylinders, etc.

The cutting process is not simple. Power is required to spin the cutterhead, and more power to force the bar through. It doesn't want to go. Cutting fluid washes over the whole process to cut metal off without burning up the tools or bar. There tends to be a loud noise resembling screaming and a smoke cloud emanates from the protective covers. Steadily a bar moves out the exit end and looks nothing like the bar that entered the cutting area.

I've recently come to see this as a good metaphor for the concept of the new man (Eph 4:22-24). The old self getting removed (not an easy step, not a painless step) and carried away. Washed. And a clean, usable, new self ready for use on the other side. A transformation.

This results in a stark contrast of the raw bars on the entry table with the exit table full of mirror finish processed bars. The transformation is painful; but the life is most abundant after the process, bar none.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Counting Stars - Hutchmoot concert

Friday night of HM-MMX (Hutchmoot 2010) was centered around the Andrew Peterson release concert of Counting Stars. Mooters had reserved seating and there wasn't much room beyond the mooters, so I was thankful for it.

AP started with some of his classics & filled requests. The onstage cohorts were Captains Courageous teammates Ben Shive and Andy Gullahorn. It was well played and the passion carries on AP's voice and penetrates.

Up next was the Counting Stars portion. I watched the live on-line show which was the Captains. For this Counting Stars portion he was joined on stage by a full band which included many standout musicians (as if the Cap'ns weren't). I'm not a music insider and I still picked up many of the names. Sit & count the stars if you are able to.

It had been a few years since seeing a live show, and MANY years since I've been up close at a live show. As a stage hand for the Christian shows rolling through Lancaster (WJTL does well) I was up close very often (and my hearing is paying the price). I had forgotten how much drums can make you feel the music. They stepped thru every song of the album. AP's voice was passionate and his delivery makes you feel like you're the only one he's singing to.

For me the drums drove every song home. I had listened to the album 20x and knew the full sound beyond just the Cap'ns that was done online. At least, I thought I knew. The songs thundered and roared. The Reckoning in particular boomed out and truly made you wonder "how long, until the reckoning?" It was a superb show. AP standing before a crowd lives the songs. Online he still performed well, but onstage with an audience he lives the song for you. It pours out from his heart to yours.

While I'm still mentally unpacking from the weekend (and believe me all of HM-MMX pales in comparison to the other life happenings, it got paler today still) it occurs to me this was a great show and a fitting opening to a PACKED weekend.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Taste & see that the Lord is good. (Hutchmoot - an appetizer)

I've had slow weekends, and I've had busy weekends. This past weekend was unlike any other I've had before.

It was Hutchmoot weekend. What is Hutchmoot? Andrew Peterson led the way in forming an online community of folks who love story, song and art. Hutchmoot was the first stab at making the online cross over into the real world.

It crossed over with food, a concert, planned discussion topic groups, panel discussions, a keynote speech from Walt Wangerin Jr, and a wrapup concert in the round of like minded musicians. I'd say it was successful.

I've been an AP fan (some might say stalker) for 11ish years now. Becky & I saw him and Bebo Norman open up for Caedmon's Call at Grove City. Oddly about 8 addresses later we now live in Grove City. There is something authentic about his music that rings true within me.

I had set the bar high for this weekend. I tend to be an optimist and dreamer which can lead to disappointment sometimes, but I can't stop doing it. I can't stop doing it because things like this weekend happen. I was hoping big & great, and it was greater still.

This weekend felt 4 days long. So much happened it is overwhelming. My clothes will be unpacked long before my head ever will.

The best part is for how great Hutchmoot was; it wasn't the best part. A great event like Hutchmoot took second seat to something much better; sorry Hutchmoot you ended up with the 2nd place ribbon. Better luck next year. It was a catalyst to some major retooling in my marriage. We needed, I needed it. That's all the more details you'll get tho'.

So I'll rant a few times about the awesome time Hutchmoot was.
It all seems to fall under the statement from one of the panels:
"There is only one great story (I'll add "and one supreme author"), we just get to retell the story."

First off - The food.
Evie Coates headed up the food prep and presentation. It was supremely done and would be easy to overlook. Something comfortable and soothing about it. The keynote speaker, Walt Wangerin Jr., commented about community around the table with good food and there was a harmonious agreeing grunt that bellowed out automatically from everyone. Loud; as in vikings loud. With our mouths silent from hanging on every word our very guts cried out.

I should pretend to get back to work now. Moving spreadsheets and mechanical assemblies on the screen is hard to focus on today; and I generally enjoy it.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Make 'em Laugh

"Seriousness is not a virtue. It would be a heresy, but a much more sensible heresy, to say that seriousness is a vice. It is really a natural trend or lapse into taking one's self gravely, because it is the easiest thing to do. It is much easier to write a good Times leading article than a good joke. For solemnity flows out of men naturally, but laughter is a leap. It is easy to be heavy; hard to be light. Satan fell by the force of gravity." - GKC, Orthodoxy

I sometimes get accused of being too serious. It's true, it happens. Generally it happens when I'm not partaking in crude jokes. That's fine by me. Most who know me know I am far from serious, and least serious about myself.

I like to laugh. I laugh at life and the simple things. I laugh at my kids developing a sense of humor. I laugh at the "People of Walmart". I laugh at jokes; and fun shows. I like Psych.

Another of my favorite shows (and possibly favorite of my viewing career) is Phineas & Ferb. 2 genius kids build outrageous things on there summer vacation. The sister relentlessly tries to bust them and it somehow disappears before the mom shows up. Throw in a secret agent platypus, evil scientist and wacky music numbers. While a "kid's show", it's a show where kids will not get 1/2 the jokes.

Swiss Family Phineas

It's the brainchild of 2 of the writers from "The Family Guy" which was a very funny show but generally lewd. Beyond generally, nearly always lewd & crude.

They kept the funny and lost the vulgar-ness.

There is something special about laughter. Special in that it's unique to humanity. You don't see animals playing jokes on each other. Gorillas aren't pretending to talk on the banana phone despite ample opportunities for the gag. There is play amongst learning & growing animals but these are generally sharpening skills.

Laughter is also special in that it breaks free. While your laughing, for a moment the anchors of the world let go. For an instant the curtain is lifted.

Laughter is a sharp tool. It can cut you free from the gravity of the world. It can also cut people and send them crashing down. I want to laugh with people, and slightly at them if they are laughing too. I try hard to not ridicule. I try hard not to cause or contribute to people being ridiculed. The cost is too high and their is no proper payback or making up for it. It sacrifices honor, trust and respect for pride, power and popularity. I'm not always successful but this is my aim.

I guess I am serious about trying to treat people right. I'm also serious about my identity as a child of God, which lets me laugh at myself. If you can laugh at yourself you're always on the inside of the joke.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Balancing act of Life Abundant

This past sunday we had a special worship service at our church. In the summer we have an outdoor service 1x per month. That was this past week with the added bonus of Jay Michael singing & sharing.

Jay is a newly wed (2 months) and shared a scattering of info but one tidbit that stuck well was the math of 1 + 1 = 1. one groom plus one wife equals one new life together. "The two shall become one". It immediately blew air onto the embers of the life paradox.

I've grown into a paradoxical understanding of the gospel. I'm not the 1st to think of it but I don't hear it laid out well. I've heard that many sermons can be summarized as "you suck, try harder".
Read your bible more, pray more, be a better father/husband/son, sin less, give more, buy less, pollute less, don't cheat, don't steal, tell the truth, save more, plant a tree, hug a tree, hug your family, dress nicely, brush your teeth, etc.

Even cloaked under the grace side of the balance it becomes a measure of efforts. I've probably discussed the basic paradox often (and will more) but I had been pondering the attempt of balance more.

The gospel (good news) is essentially "you are more sinful than you can bear to know and more loved than you'll ever know".

You fail, you aren't perfect; no amount of effort, trying or buying is going to satisfy. There might be temporary plateaus but they leave fall short.

judgement & mercy
law & grace

It's natural to try the balance act. 1/2 of this + 1/2 of that will keep me at one. The beauty of marriage is when both are "all-in". Both are committed 100% to the marriage and their partner. It's awesome when this is working. If you're only 1/2 in & thinking it's his/her turn to do the dishes, vacuum, feed the dog, cook, pay the bills, etc. If you got married thinking it's 1/2 the work you missed the point. It's just as much (actually more) "work". Now it's about something bigger than either spouse.

Being church-y this cooks down to "there are these rules I can follow and some are too old to apply anymore; and then there's the cleansing blood for the ones I can't quite get". NO. All of the law is beneficial for what it tells us about God and how he wants us to live. And you don't need 1/2 the grace, you need all of it. All in.

Here's the secret:
Being guilty and justified at the same time frees you to do everything for God. Free to serve.
I'm set free from making my efforts measure up. I can serve knowing it's all for God. I don't have to worry about how much I measure up - I've made the final goal. I don't worry about falling short in the past, or lacking the future. There's no pride or guilt to be had over past accomplishments.

You can bring nothing to the table that God needs. All you can do and all you need to do is let go of your baggage ("I do item xxxx well for God therefore he will bless me") and be of use to God.

Trying to add to God's work is like a tree moving leaves to add to the wind. You move because of God's work and blessings and not the other way around.

Hold that in your heart & you are free to go serve.

Monday, July 26, 2010

I could never do that

I overheard a conversation the other day of some parents of playing children discussing a common acquaintance who is tending to a child with severe health issues. The kind every parent fears. A life battle and struggle that perplexes the mind, shakes the soul, and crushes your very core. Somehow the parents are pushing thru this with strength, faith, and joy for every day. The child has already lived 3 years past doctor expectations and I'm pretty sure the parents view everyday as a blessing to be filled with love for their child.

The common response:
"I could never do that. I don't have the ________"

I've heard this before. I've said this before.

I've heard this about everything from homeschooling (patience), singing (stage fright), preaching (embarrassing), teaching (not smart enough), infant's health struggles (doubt), leading a Bible study (don't know enough), basketball (too short), limbo (too tall).

Not picking on the partakers in this conversation but it bothered me. It's doubt. I wouldn't want to go thru that, but I'll deal with what's in front of me.

Mostly the Moses examples comes to mind. God directly calls Moses to action and he squirms behind "I can't do that, I can't speak". (Exodus 4:10). God works with him using Aaron. But before long Moses is the one talking to Pharaoh, leading the people and doing what God had planned.

It is all doubt - for believers it's doubt in God, a worldly view would say it's doubt in yourself (sshhh - you are who God made you so it's still God and his potential for you that's being doubted).

I see this conquered in 2 ways.
A) Mountains in front of you.
Often a look at a mountain will lead you to say "I could never climb that". Start 1 step at a time and get moving. Building a house, completing big projects, etc. Eat the elephant 1 bite at a time. You see it's a big project and that can be frightening.

B) Valleys behind you
You're into a situation where you just go thru focusing on 1 foot in front of the other. Usually you aren't asking for it, you're thrown into it and it's get moving or be stuck. You move, you get through. At the end of the day (rarely), week, month, year or decade you look back and say "WOW! look how far we came." Recovering from a family tragedy, working thru a crisis, etc. The perspective on the otherside is of the whole valley, and until you are through it you don't see it. You're deep into it and may not see the way out.

Parenting tends to fall under the B. Everyday you work; pouring your heart, mind and soul into beings where you get no understanding of thanks or what the outcome will be until it's over. I now know why parents (and grandparents) cry at graduation. I get sappy watching my kids. I get sappy at movies relating to kids and family.

The other side is that I could never sink so low as to do that. Stealing, drugs, embezzling, facemask penalty, flopping to draw a red-card, etc. Things start small and are gotten away with until it slowly turns the heart and blurs the vision. The heart, thinking and actions move from what is right, to what is allowed, to what can I get away with. Until you don't care if you get away with it, you can't resist doing it.

Are you being sharpened for use or dulled to be put away?

Daily discipline. Decide daily if you want to move out of the valley, move up the mountain. Generally going with the flow only cuts deeper into the valley.

I understand relaxing, pausing and remembering, be still and know. But I know when I'm being lazy, or procrastinating, or taking a needed break. I know when I'm delaying because I don't have the full perspective. I know when I'm trying to wallow or get lost in the valley.

"Beards aren't grown on a whim."

Friday, July 23, 2010

AP - Counting Stars - Review

So today I got the new Andrew Peterson CD - Counting Stars. Available here:

I'm about 3x listening thru and my first impression is that it's comfortable.

There are many guitar rifts that are similar to past songs intentionally (World Traveler).
It is simpler (more folksy) than Resurrection Letters and some of his other work. I prefer it that way.

There are a few powerful song but I don't think anything will pass by Silence of God

Or as heart-wrenching as "After the Last Tear Falls"

But "The Last Frontier" might sneak in there and usurp them. An odd and morbid thought, it's what I want as a funeral song; it bypassed "Lay Me Down" and "More" from The Far Country.

Overall it is an excellent album. No let down for AP fans which says much since he keeps churning out high quality. It is excellent for the same reasons as I fell for his earlier stuff; it's from the heart. AP crafts songs that he wants to play and wants to listen to. It's not calculated for the best mass appeal, or radio play, or what will sell the most. They are from the heart and show vulnerability which is what makes them ring true.

It also shows the subtle (and sometimes not subtle) sense of humor (Many Roads) that makes you smile.

All in all I'm just getting started on absorbing it and it may pass by Love & Thunder as my favorite album and will certainly be a contender. I highly recommend it to fans and people who might be interested. So run & buy a copy for yourself and one for a friend.

Monday, July 19, 2010

2 not-right feet

Over the weekend we went to a wedding. A high school friend tied the knot and many folks celebrated and tied one on. As is common with weddings and alcohol there was much dancing. I struggle to dance; my shoestrings may as well be tied together.

Sure I can waddle back and forth like a penguin to a slow song. It's wonderful to do this my wife & talk about things that couples care about: kids, tv and the mystery of the house dressing on the salad. I think everyone survived so it wasn't a murder mystery. But I can't dance. My limbs seem to lack any sense of what to do at what time. I'm told there is a "beat" and a "rythm" but I hold these in nearly the same position as the tooth fairy, flying cars and honest politicians. Everyone wants it to be there, but it isn't.

I can juggle, ride a unicycle, run faster than most, occassionaly fly & catch some plastic over people; but my 2 y/o dances better than me. Truly, she can bring it. I can't recall any scarring trauma of being ridiculed at a school assembly or any junk like that; but I feel like the whole world stops points and laughs at my feeble efforts of moving to music. Boo-hoo for me. I'm not worried about it; in heaven I'll dance with the best of them.

Other than sitting there & wishing I could dance (and refusing to imbibe the volume of beer that would loosen the fetters) I couldn't help but notice how things change. I was surrounded by some of my best buds from 15 years ago. Most of them I've seen less than a handful of times in the past 10 years. I went to college and now run in different circles than they do. Most of them are around the home area and are fairly close. We all still run in circles, generally chasing our own tails and telling tales of the one that got away. Some of the ruts from the old days remain. Lots of laughter. I couldn't help but feel out of step. For once I can hear the rythm though.

All if this to say, I'm happy for my past and how my life has turned out. The steps from yesterday gave me a running start to who I am today. I'm happy for all of my friends and how things are going for them. It is fun to catch up and toss jokes back and forth.

I truly live with no regrets. I don't yearn for things to be like they used to be; I don't run from who I was before and try to forget who I used to be. Because I see the highs & lows of the path to today I am hopeful for the future and where this road may go.

I see that as the paradox of life which gets wrapped up in the gospel; highs & lows held in each hand which equips you for a joyful march into tomorrow.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Every Fog has its Day

In my 35min commute to work I frequently hit patches of fog in the morning. Today was more variable than usual. I started with a bright sunny morning requiring sunglasses. Upon getting on the highway glasses were off, headlights were on, and I was in fog. I fairly heavy fog too. The kind where if you drive along you'd go much slower than I was going, but on the highway you keep a visible distance from the car infront of you and maintain speed to keep the visible distance.

For the past few months I've enjoyed the seasonable morning drive. With the summer sun it's nice to see the world awake before I'm at work. In the winter it is a more gloomy drive in the dark. Fog seems to get in the way of a pleasant drive.

My first feeling was the fog wraps you up in a colorless blanket. Upon further thinking, it's not colorless. It is grey. A very ho-hum dull color. Fog is essentially a cloud. A cloud infront of your eyes wipes out all other colors; yet framed in sky has streams whiter than cotton, with wonderful shades of blue, red and grey that can't be matched by any pantones or paint department.

Then I stumble upon this quote:
"Lastly, there is this value about the colour that men call colourless: that it suggest in some way the mixed and troubled average of existence, especially in its quality of strife and expectation of promise. Grey is a colour that always seems on the eve of changing to some other colour; of brightening into blue, or blanching into white, or breaking into green or gold. So we may be perpetually reminded of the indefinite hope that is in doubt itself; and when there is grey weather on our hills or grey hair on our heads perhaps they may still remind us of the morning."
-GK Chesterton

I have 2 windows by my desk that provide some nice daydreaming and cloud watching scenery. Once you look past the cars, the fence, and the steel mill next door; yes, it's very scenic. Ok not really. Really I have the attention span of a gnat and usually enjoy the distractions. I'm not sure how big a gnat's attention span is, but I'm sure it's small. The clouds are awesome to focus on for view and thought. They can tell of what they're bringing weather wise. You can assign stories and characters to the shapes. They can unite to bring relief with shade or rain; or break to reveal something beyond them that is sustaining the world.

It seems that the morning fog is working to hide something. It works hard to keep things covered and always yields to the burning power of the sun. The light is needed to see all of the true colors. It's like a morning within a morning. The fog may have its time of day, but it is only a precursor to the revealing light.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Fix is in

Sometimes life is stressful. Sometimes work is stressful but usually not so much for me, except yesterday (and today).

The machines I help design & build move around large steel bars. A customer of ours had a near miss yesterday. A bar missed a sensor & got tossed like uncooked spaghetti. So an 800lb gets tossed into the air and lands where an operator had been standing 10 seconds before. A hefty chunk of concrete chipped out of the floor, some bent steel pieces, but no one hurt.

This makes me nervous. It's not a concern over liability or blame or CYA. It is more seeing the potential of what could have happened. A machine I designed hurt someone or killed someone. There are very few thoughts that are more chilling.

I used to help design repairs for aircraft. Every 3-5 years the aircraft gets gutted & checked for cracks, corrosion, and any other damage. Engineers resolve any findings that are not covered by the standard manuals. I have a higher than normal insight into aircraft and what goes into making them work and continue working for a long time. As an intern I worked with my mentor engineer in the only other similar scary incident that comes to mind. We found a 34" crack in the aircraft skin at a critical point in the structure. A quick check at the plane beside it found a 4" crack. We made national news and not in a good way. It was about 26 pages of drawings and details of what to cut, rivet and how to put it all together. The FAA had many visitors to our repair hangar. I was part of getting fixed. This was my job for about 3 years. That was chilling but different. It wasn't my creation (something I designed) that failed.

Back to the current situation. In the hypothetical pondering of what could have happened I'm saved from being a total wreck by a few things. No one was actually hurt. We are putting in some components to prevent this in the future.

On a spiritual side, in the stark reality of life my actions and decisions have killed someone. We have all done it. Someone who was pure & innocent and did nothing wrong. He died so we wouldn't. It is bigger than this though. In one sense he stepped infront of the sentence that was meant for us. Further he took the full fallout. It's one thing to be saved from death, it's another step further to be saved from the continual wrecked life. He didn't save us from the firing squad & leave us in prison. We are saved and set free. Free to serve because the we are fixed on the inside. The fix is in.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Thanks for the Lemonade

Today (& yesterday) I've been relatively confined to the couch & recliner in recovery from minor surgery. Basically much reading, TV, and video games. While this is generally not a bad way to spend a weekend; I like to move around.

Well on the tube before the 3rd place world cup game there was a story piece about Alex Scott of Alex's Lemonade Stand. I had it on for 15-20 minutes and was weepy most of the time. (I'll eat a bloody steak with my bare hands later to maintain street cred in the guy code).

It was much footage of her struggle with cancer and she started a lemonade stand to raise money. It took off and grew & got on Oprah and grew more & then Alex passed away. It's some 10 years later and it has raised over $30 million for pediatric cancer research. On top of research it also helps the families in acquiring treatment and comfort for these little warriors.

Something about kids suffering breaks my heart. I'm sure it breaks everyone's heart and there's a sense of "Why God?". A common view is that if God is powerful he wouldn't let this happen -OR- if God let's this happen he isn't so good. Either he isn't powerful or he isn't good - which is it? Neither. He is all powerful and we are not, he can see things and results which our eyes and minds cannot hold. He is provident - he works all things out. Just because we can't see what good there would possibly be doesn't mean squat.

Alex had great spunk and was very smart and the foundation has carried on because of her fighting spirit. It has gone on to touch hundreds and thousands of lives. Some of the Foundation research has led to the identification of a gene linked to Neuroblastoma. Research is being done on a pill as a blocker to tumor development from these findings.

All this to say there is a God and I'm not him. Thanks for the Lemonade.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Camp and Out

Today is a milestone in our household. Our oldest is departing the 1st time for church camp.

It's only 2 nights of fun filled adventure but it's enough to make a mark. It is the indicator of things changing. Kids getting older and getting into their own stuff. In preparation for camp there has been running to the grocery store, and quick lessons on doing things on her own. Things that we used to do.

Plus being Broo there is a significant chance she will not let us do these things for her again. Independence will have taken seed and there is no stopping it. She's already eating well, getting drinks, etc. Bath time was predominantly parent driven. Now she knows how to shower on her own. We used to setup the toothbrush; no more.

We've previously seen the greenshoots of "I can do it" and "Let me do it". It's not really a control aspect that we just can't let go, or a lack of trust. It's that we aren't ready for her to grow up so fast.

Back as a new parent one of the books schlepped upon was "New Parent Power". An updated version of the author's previous hit "Parent Power". A pretty good book but one of the key lessons for me was that you are raising kids to be independent contributing members of society. I'd toss in some faith as imperative also.

Biblical Paradox.
Ephesians 6:4. Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

Do not squash your kids, but don't let them loose with no training.

You have potential to frustrate your children (and yourself) in 2 ways:
A) Total Training
if you do not equip them for being solo someday. Eating, dressing, laundry, household budget,....basic life lessons that should be passed down so they someday get out of your house without full dependence on you. But if they grow up too quickly, too soon they potentially lose the love of life. Being a kid and playing games. A proper and proportional love for things because all is viewed as work. Parents must let kids play and be kids.
B) No Training
if you give them none of these. The kid may never leave your house or understand the value of work and earning things. If all is done for them the sense of duty and rejoicing at the fruits of efforts is never grown. You wouldn't let your kid ride bike in a busy street so they can learn the lessons themselves, they aren't ready and don't see the danger that a parent knows is there. Parents must use rules.

The common thought is to balance this. True, but don't balance by being 1/2 rules & 1/2 grace. Balance by going all in. There are rules and lessons (Law) and there is love and mystery and story (Grace).

It sounds weird but I hope I'm still allowed to do things for Broo and still able to let her do it herself and smile. She may go camping but she is not out.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Just my $0.02

Today the post office announced it is increasing it's rates. Letters will be $0.02 more per stamp.

Considering all that the Postal Service does and how quickly it will still be used and will just be rolled into the standard "yeah, well" view of life. The principle of it is starting to bother me. Basically they are incrementally being used less for letters. E-mail and online bill payments. They've made a great move with the standard boxes and rates especially in the current era of E-bay and Amazon.

But I'm not sure I'm seeing great improvements. It should show up in better efficiency. It goes to show a basic principle of costs and inefficiencies creeping in when there is no downward pressure. Simple competition forces.

A few months ago our furnace quit working. I called the folks who installed it 3 years ago. Back then they were a family owned micro-chain and did a quality job. Now they are Franchised with a national network. $45 to evaluate that the blower motor died and it would be a flat rate $900 to replace. A quick internet check found the motor for about $300 at a few places and it is fairly easy to install. I chatted with the owner for about 45 minutes and listened to him outright lie to me about the quality of the motor I could get, the complexity of the furnace motor and various other lines. As part of my job I fight for good pricing on motors and specifications. He would have been better off saying "yeah, we're just trying to shellac you for the difference". It turned out to be a warranty item.

A mom & pop or family business tends not to shellac you for $900 total; they'd charge you for $450 and cover their costs with a nice set profit. Instead the national chain with flat rate pricing is breaking the system. Bad pricing (doesn't understand the small town), bad customer treatment, and a bad reputation for the business (I will never buy from Schnieder, or the now 1-Hr Heating & Cooling).

I like my mom/pop shops. We've worked to buying local foods (usually pizza) instead of the mega chains. We avoid wal-mart where possible. I like my town, I want it to stick around.

So there's a line to walk; a paradox.

Competition is generally good for pricing. A mom/pop garage or plumber will be cheaper and generally better quality than any national chain. 10-12 plumbers is great for a town, 1 plumber will leave you getting hosed.

Then there is the other extreme seen in Walmart. Walmart sells cheaper junk than the 5&10 shop, but it's only thru the national leveraging (and China) that they are able to do this; support your local folks and buy local when you can. Yes Walmart has local folks working and sales revenue and does community stuff on the local level; but they are a shadow of the mom/pop store who's life is in the business.

Less letters are being mailed. So my $0.02 will be going to maintain the current system that will be used less, instead of getting a smarter system better suited to the new market. They're taking my $0.02 so I may as well give them a penny full of thoughts twice over.